"This feels very much like a money making exercise by the council": Northampton woman speaks out against 24-hour bus lane cameras
The 24-hour bus lane cameras leading to Northampton town centre have recently been introduced this year
A Northampton business director has hit out at the county council's 24-hour bus lane cameras between Sixfields and the town centre which fines motorists if they enter the zone.
Steph Morris, director at a car garage in St James Mill Road which employs 29 members of staff, said she feels Northamptonhire County Council (NCC) is "purposely trying to catch people out" after five of her employees have recently been fined.
The fines are £60, but reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days. Only buses, motorcycles, taxis and bicycles are allowed to use the restricted lanes, which are located in parts of Weedon Road, St James Road and Wellingborough Road.
Steph said: "So far five of our staff have received penalty notices and I expect to receive two more before the week is out.
"The major issue with this decision, apart from the fact it’s completely unnecessary, is when people are waiting to turn right into the BP fuel station. At this point the normal thing to do is move into the left hand lane, which is the bus lane, to pass and then return to the right hand lane - I carried this move out myself on Friday, so I am awaiting my ticket."
The 39-year-old said she disagrees with NCC's explanation that the new 24-hr bus lane improves traffic flow and Covid travel plans.
She said: "If vehicles are forced to queue behind someone waiting to turn right into the BP garage, then the traffic will very quickly reach back to the lights at the turning to St James Mill Road. There are already issues with that junction and at peak times the traffic on St James Mill Road waiting to turn onto St James Road can be queued a long way back.
"They have put that camera there knowing that it's where they are going to make money. This feels very much like a money making exercise by the county council. It really does feel like they are purposely trying to catch people out."
Steph said she hopes that when lockdown is over NCC will reconsider reverting back to the previous system where the bus lane was only in operation at peak times during the day.
She added: "Can you imagine what it will be like when The Saints are playing? It's bad enough with two lanes! It's going to be an absolute nightmare when everyone is back to normal."
Residents were given the chance to voice their concerns with the extension in January. Cllr Jason Smithers, County Council Cabinet Member for Transport, Highways and Environment, said: “The reason for the camera’s positioning on St James Road is to allow the operator sufficient road length to review whether a contravention has occurred before making the decision as to whether a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) should be issued.
“Bus lanes are marked by a solid thick white line marked on the road and therefore clearly visible. Drivers may only enter the lane once the solid white line has ended to indicate that the restriction has finished.
"Signage is also in place leading up to the bus lane to inform motorists before the restriction starts and there are also repeater plates to indicate that the restrictions continues.
“As per the highway code, motorists behind vehicles waiting to turn right should stop/slow down and wait for the vehicle in front to complete its manoeuvre before continuing along St James Road.
“Part of the solution to reducing congestion and pollution is to encourage people to use more sustainable forms of transport. A real challenge to promoting bus travel is guaranteeing reliable journey times.
"I believe our considered use of bus lane restrictions and appropriate enforcement will make significant improvements in making bus travel an attractive option for commuters. I also think it will encourage cycling as the bus lanes, if free of cars, are fairly traffic light and better for those who choose pedal power.
"Any motorist who has received a PCN is able to appeal and should follow the details provided on the PCN itself ensuring that they adhere to the date deadlines stipulated on the notice received.”
Councils around the country are free to charge drivers up to £130 for flouting rules and using lanes dedicated to public transport. But since the powers were introduced drivers have complained of being hit with charges for honest mistakes, often caused by poor signage.
Now, the government has suggested that councils will be told to issue a warning rather than a fine for first-time offenders.
The rules would apply to bus lane and other “moving traffic offences” such as making illegal turns or blocking a yellow box junction. Powers to enforce these other offences are due to be handed over to local authorities in England under the Government's Gear Change proposals.
The plan to issue warnings instead of fines was announced as part of the same proposals for altering road regulations. The plan says: “We will issue guidance to local authorities... including the importance of ensuring the need for traffic signing to be properly designed and placed, so that it is clear to drivers what restrictions are in force.
“We propose that motorists be issued with a warning for a first offence, and fines for subsequent offences.”